If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I’ve struggled with decisions about how to define the ‘site,’ ‘group’ or ‘area’ that will define my observations. I’ve conducted pilot observations throughout Second Life over the past two weeks: a TV show sim, a dance club, a recreation of parts of NYC, music clubs, academic classrooms, a fantastical land of artistic graphics and extraordinary out-of-this-world experiences…..and more. I’ve joined a plethora of SL groups from music junkies to language learners.
I’ve considered how to use a site or group as a starting point but utilize a theoretical framework of connectivity or a ‘multi-sited’ ethnographic approach. I’ve realized the importance of following connectivity, ideas and meaning in virtual space rather than getting caught up in a single-sited approach.
But through all of this, I somehow thought I still needed to find a bounded community within Second Life to define in my ultimate research agenda. I felt that SL as a whole was too ‘big’ of a site because I could not even begin to observe all pieces of it.
And where have I ultimately landed? I’ve realized — much thanks to a pivotol conversation I had with fellow MLIS student Anne Mostad-Jensen — that it’s best to get away from a site-based approach all together. I’d been searching for a ‘site’ to match up to ethnographic reserch standards calling for a defined “culture-sharing group.” I thought that finding a place in SL, locating a group, or some such thing, is the course I’d have to take to justify ethnography.
Anne helped me understand the obvious: all of SL is a culture-sharing group with social norms, customs, etc. They may be practiced in different ways in the land of the steam punks versus the Gossip Girl sim. However, there are overarching social structures that justify SL – as a whole – as a site for my observations. Plus, choosing one SL subculture would erase the richness that can be found by looking at various pieces of this virtual world.
Ultimately, this approach has not led me to a defined site that fits nicely into a traditional “statement of purpose,” but then I remember the words of Christine Hine in describing her virtual ethnogrphy as a “partial ethnography.” Plus, I learned from reading John Crewswell’s research methods text that I am most certainly a pragmatist who takes from multiple traditions that best answer my research questions. And ultimately, my research is about the information seeking behaviors of Second Life users, not just the users – for example – who like to go to music concerts in SL. Considering all of SL as my research site best answers my research questions by opening doors to consider the diversity of SL users of all kinds.